Chicago Sexual Assault: Survivors Speak Out

Several support groups help survivors heal by offering a safe and non-threatening environment where they can feel comfortable sharing their stories. Credit: Itziarely Demeza and Vanessa Escutia

Only first names were used for the victims who shared their stories for this piece.

By:Itziarely Demeza and Vanessa Escutia
Jasmine faced sexual violence first hand at age 14. Her perpetrator being the boyfriend that she loved caught her unexpected.

“He forcefully pushed me onto the couch as I cried,” said Jasmine, now 21, as she recounted the incidents from May of 2012 “ He kept saying I was going to be fine and then forced me to have sex with him after I said no.”

Like many survivors, reporting the event was the last thing on her mind, she internalized the pain, she stayed silent until now. She recently attended a concert with her current boyfriend, where she ran into the man who sexually assaulted her.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe again, and I tried to get away from him. I remember turning around and he was standing right behind me and I felt his body pressed against me and I had to leave. I felt disgusted for two weeks after that and I tried not to make it real for so long that once I felt him again I realized how I actually went through that.”

Jasmine said the frightening night continues to haunt her today. But she’s not the only one facing the challenges of a survivor.

According to RAINN, there are, on average, 434,000 victims who are age 12 or older who have reported rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

Sexual assault can be defined as any sexual contact of behavior that occurs without given consent. According to RAINN some examples of sexual violence would be attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, catcalls, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, oral sex or penetration of the victim’s body. RAINN states that every nine minutes’ child protective services finds evidence or receives a claim for child or teen sexual abuse.

Who can be a Perpetrator?
Eight times out of 10 perpetrators are people who the victim may already know. Intimate partner violence and acquaintance rape is also very common. Vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence will not go to jail or face prison. According to RAINN out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 of perpetrators will walk free.

Experts say it can be difficult for a victim, and this type of behavior can ultimately negatively impact the victims well-being: leading them towards depression, PTSD, self-harm, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and even suicide.


INFOGRAPHIC: What this graph shows is that there seems to be a lot of reported sexual assaults in different districts of Chicago. However, these are statistics from 2001 to the current present, therefore these numbers of reported sexual assaults do not represent every victim who has experienced sexual violence, considering that majority of cases do go unreported.

According to the Chicago Data Portal, Police District 7, which covers the Chicago’s South Side, has had the highest number of reported sexual assaults at a total of 2,063 from 2001-2019 District 20, located on the North Side, has a low number of 561 reported sexual assaults cases.

According to RAINN, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported and there’s many different reasons as to why they don’t.

There are multiple reasons why a survivor may choose not to report sexual assault. These are some of the reasons why. Credit: Itziarely Demeza and Vanessa Escutia

 

Many movements are dedicated to fighting sexual assault and violence, notably The Me Too movement. It was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke and exploded in October 2017 after there were substantial allegations made against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment.

The birth of the #MeToo hashtag blew up, according to The Telegraph, after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out asking all women to write “#MeToo” as a status if they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. This tweet ended up getting 10,000 replies within 20 minutes. CNN reported that people tweeted out #MeToo 2.3 million times by early November 2017, from 85 countries.

This movement has encouraged a lot of people to come out and tell their stories. Erinn Robinson from RAINN’s communication team, and an expert in the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, expresses how many people reach out to them per month asking for help. “Prior to the Me Too movement exploding back in 2017, we had about 15,000 callers per month and now over the last year and a half to two years, we’ve had steady between 25 and 26,000 people that reach out to our hotline for support each month.”

Experts say that it is important to get help from a professional because survivors tend to internalize a lot of that trauma and we see that survivors are at a higher risk of suicide and drug use.

“As a society we should try to find and learn ways that can help out a survivor without being critical, because that’s what can cause someone to keep their stories to themselves.
Educating the public on supportive responses when a loved one comes forward with their experience can also be very helpful” Robinson said.

Supportive phrases that RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline Recommend:
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”

Jullian’s Story
Men are also victims of sexual violence and millions of men have been victims of rape. 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. Transgender individuals and other members of the LBTQ+ community are at a higher risk of sexual violence.

It was a late September of 2019 when Jullian, 27 decided to take a night out and go to club expecting to have a great time, when all of a sudden a male aggressively grabbed him and began to inappropriately touch him, trying to unzip his pants. However, this wasn’t the first time he had been harassed in a public space. He, as well as many others has been a victim to catcalls by other men.

“It’s weird because I’m a guy but i don’t want to feel minimized to what I am wearing,” he said. “People think that because I am a man that it is OK to grab my ass, but its not and I don’t think that people should have to dress down because they are afraid to get cat called. It’s not fair, and not your fault when something like this happens.”

Finding ways to cope has been a challenge for Jullian, and there are more people having to face the leftover traumas associated to sexual violence. Feelings of discomfort and insecurity may arise and feeling safe enough to speak out is not always easy, experts say.

“I definitely talked to my therapist about it and i didnt even realize how I had been cutting myself off from experiencing certain things because I was afraid of what could happen,” Julian said. “I don’t put myself out there as much as I would like to.”

Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, Julian says, means that “[we are] hypersexualized, causing sexual assault to be normalized, especially if you are a person of color.”

 

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How to Help
It is important know how acts of sexual violence can deeply affect those who have been victims. There are many negative impacts that a survivor of sexual violence may have to face, that is both short term and long term impacts. This infographic shares information on sexual assault and the psychological and physical impacts, along with tips on how to recover from trauma.

Organizations in Chicago that Help Survivors of Sexual Assault and Help Prevent Rape Culture:

This map includes locations of nonprofit Chicago organizations that not only support survivors and work to prevent sexual violence, but also offer free or low-cost services that include medical and legal advocacy, housing, counseling for all ages, even survivors’ loved ones, from individual, group, or family counseling.

A Long Walk Home
Apna Ghar
Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center
Howard Brown
Mujeres Latinas en Acción
Resilience

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